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How to use 'the Passive'

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'The Pyramids were built a long time ago.'


What is a passive sentence?

Most of spoken English uses active speech. In active sentences the subject is the focus of the sentence. For example:

Active = 'The Egyptians built the Pyramids a long time ago.' In this sentence the Egyptians are the subject and the Pyramids are the object.

In passive sentences the object becomes the subject and focus of the sentence. For example:

Passive = 'The Pyramids were built by the Egyptians a long time ago.'

Why do we use the passive?

We use the active to say 'what the subject does':

'Slaves built the Pyramids.'

We use the passive to say 'what happens to the subject':

'The Pyramids were built by slaves.'

We use the passive when:

  • We do not know who did the action = 'The window was broken.' (we don't know who broke it.)
  • It is not important who did the action = 'Breakfast is served at 7am.' (it is not important who serves breakfast)
  • It is very clear/ obvious who did the action = 'Corn is grown in this field.' (obviously, farmers grow the corn)

How to make a passive?

be (is,was) + past participle (been, drawn) makes the passive.

Present Simple Passive: 'The newspaper is delivered every morning.'
(Present Simple Active: 'They deliver the paper every morning.')

Past Simple Passive: 'The newspaper was delivered this morning.'
(Past Simple Active: 'Someone delivered the newspaper this morning.')

Now complete these sentences:

  • Romeo & Juliet ___ by Shakespeare.

  • Paper ___ from wood.

  • Gifts ___ at Christmas.

  • Edison ___ the lightbulb.

  • The bell ___ on Sunday.

  • Rice ___ in Asia.